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Can You Really Backdoor Federated Learning?

Ananda Theertha Suresh
Peter Kairouz
Ziteng Sun
Federated learning workshop at NeurRIPS (2019)


The decentralized nature of federated learning makes detecting and defending against adversarial attacks a challenging task. This paper focuses on backdoor attacks in the federated learning setting, where the goal of the adversary is to reduce the performance of the model on targeted tasks while maintaining a good performance on the main task. Unlike existing works, we allow non-malicious clients to have correctly labeled samples from the targeted tasks. We conduct a comprehensive study of backdoor attacks and defenses for the EMNIST dataset, a real-life, user-partitioned, and non-iid dataset. We observe that in the absence of defenses, the performance of the attack largely depends on the fraction of adversaries present and the “complexity” of the targeted task. Moreover, we show that norm clipping and “weak” differential privacy mitigate the attacks without hurting the overall performance. We have implemented the attacks and defenses in TensorFlow Federated (TFF), a TensorFlow framework for federated learning. In open sourcing our code, our goal is to encourage researchers to contribute new attacks and defenses and evaluate them on standard federated datasets.

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